WICHITA, Kansas — He is 88 years old, but you wouldn’t know it. He recently lost an eye to cancer and says he has slowed down some, but we would all hope to be that slow at 88.
Edgar Overstake is a member of that generation that helped defeat the worst the 20th century had to offer and then came home to fuel an American middle class that became the envy of the world.
He joined the Navy at the age of 17 in 1942, just a few months after the war started. For him and so many others it became the defining time of their lives, something that sticks with him almost seventy years later.
“Never a day passes,” he says, “that there isn’t something that goes through your mind that says something about the war.”
He served on an LST, the cargo work ship of the U.S. Navy. The LSTs hauled heavy equipment like tanks, trucks and jeeps for the invasion forces in Europe and the Pacific. However, hauling equipment did not keep him from harm’s way.
He took part in a top-secret operation just before D-Day in the early spring of 1944. U.S. and British troops and ships trained on the coast of England for the Normandy invasion which came a few months later.
During that training, German war boats infiltrated the Allied ranks and it ended with Overstake recovering the bodies of friends.
“There were about three LSTs hit by German E-boats and were sunk. We picked up about 40 bodies in the channel on our way there. We were all under oath about the operation and we couldn’t say a word.”
In the days and weeks following D-Day in June of 1944, German ships and planes continually attacked American ships of all types. American sailors were on constant alert.
Overstake said he always felt he would survive, but that feeling was put to the test when he became one of the relative few sent to the Pacific to take part in operations there.
His LST was in the battle of Okinawa, one of the war’s bloodiest. Over 10,000 American lost their lives, many of them to Japanese Kamikaze pilots who piloted their plans into American ships.
Overstake almost became one of those who didn’t make it when a Kamikaze pilot attacked his ship.
“I was watching him as he came over the hill and headed right for our ship. He was coming right at me. I think if he had one more shell in his machine gun, he would have got me, but he swerved at the last-minute.”
The Japanese pilot did sink Overstake’s LST, but it was in shallow water and all the crew members survived. A couple of months later the was over.
Overstake calls the day he arrived back on the West coast a “hallelujah” day as millions of American servicemen started coming home.
He and 24 other veterans will spend the next couple of days in Washington as part of Honor Flight, a program that takes veterans to Washington for a look at the various war memorials, in particular the World War II memorial.
He figures there will be some tears as he remembers those who did not return. But there will be also pride as part of a generation won out over the worst the 20th century had to offer. He hopes, too, there is a lesson for others who were not part of that history, that they would know it and not forget it.
“It says to the world that there was a war. There were guys who did some things that were above and beyond what they couldn’t ordinarily do. But they did.”